The Pursuit is Happiness

Hacks, lobbyists and random conference-goers have turned to each other at Liberal Democrat and Labour gatherings to say: “Doesn’t everyone seem chipper?”

Repeated polls show the Lib Dems are about as popular as algebra and Labour is a party locked out of power in Westminster.

But power-dressing young men and women gallop around conference centres aglow with enthusiasm and even older MPs and peers are as gleeful as Ken Dodd.

Nobody is selling sackcloth and ashes. Instead, there is a freshers’ week atmosphere and a day that starts with an earnest breakfast debate about mildew on traffic cones can climax with competitive yodelling in a karaoke bar.

We might expect politicos to be gloomy when their party is down in the polls and their leader is lampooned but this misses an essential fact about modern democracy.

The men and women who have climbed the swivelling ladder which leads to elected office are cockahoop to be there.

This life of punishing hours and economy class travel is one they have longed for and fought for.

They might prefer it if their party was as popular as Justin Bieber’s cat but it is still a thrill to be able to earn a living as an AM or MP.

An actor might long to play Hamlet or Lear but even a walk-on role in an RSC production is better than the desperate tedium of sitting on a sofa waiting for your agent to call. Similarly, a full-time footballer in a sub-premier league team is thankful he gets to kick a ball for a job instead of filleting fish.

Just as a screenwriter works in comparative darkness to craft a blockbuster that a future director will turn into Hollywood glory, the strategists who today plot their party’s comeback are performing a labour of love.

Even when a politician is in a crisis and under the glare of the Fleet Street spotlight there is sometimes a hint that they are enjoying life at the centre of a drama.

The presence of photographers on the doorstep is proof that they are truly public figures who live on the national stage.

Boxers expect to take hard knocks as they pursue their champion dreams, and a party that is on the ropes is still packed with people who watch Yes, Minister and the West Wing and revel in a life in the thick of it.

Some of them believe they have a chance to change the world and while pundits pontificate, academics theorise and protestors holler these adrenalin-filled adventurers are happy to live and work in the political midfield.

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